Collecting Social Security Disability Benefits and your Date Last Insured

To those who do not practice Social Security disability law, the acronym DLI (which stands for “Date Last Insured”) does not mean much. However, if you are looking into applying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, understanding this term and knowing its importance can prove critical.

The Social Security regulations require, in order for one to collect a Social Security disability check that you be “insured” for benefits. Much like one needs to pay a premium for car or health insurance in order to be insured, in the event you are in an accident or incur a medical bill, one needs to be insured at the point in time one becomes disabled from working.   One’s DLI is the last day a disability claimant (who is claiming a disability other than blindness) meets the “insured” requirement for the disability program.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will look to see if you have earned sufficient “quarters of coverage” (QOC) much in the way an insurance carrier would look to see if you’ve paid a premium in order to have coverage.   One earns a “quarter of coverage” or a “credit” based on ones Social Security taxed earnings in a particular year.  In 2017, a quarter of coverage or a credit is earned for each $1300.00  in Social Security taxed earnings you have posted to your Social Security record.  Thus, by working for an employer who has paid you $5200.00  (or by claiming a net profit of $5200.00 as a self-employed individual) during the course of 2017, you will accrue 4 quarters of coverage.  

The question can become quite tricky one for a Social Security lawyer who is trying to obtain SSDI for an individual who has a sporadic work history.   For the disability program generally, whether you are blind or disabled from any other medically disabling condition, the Social Security regulations requires that you are both fully insured and that you meet what’s called the 20/40 test.  In order to meet the “fully insured” test (and, for purposes of the blindness program, one need only meet that test), one must show that they have at least one quarter of coverage each year after 1950 or, if it happens to be later than 1950 that one turns 21 years of age, then 1 quarter of coverage beginning the year one turns age 21).  One likewise, needs to earn a minimum of 6 quarters of coverage to be fully insured.  Thus, if one were to become disabled from blindness at age 30, they would need to show they have earned 9 quarters of coverage by the time they became disabled at age 30.  However, for those who are claiming disability based on a disability other than blindness, then one must also meet a separate test, called the 20/40 test.

The 20/40 test requires that a disability claimant has accrued 20 quarters of coverage in the 40 quarter period leading up to the quarter in which they became disabled.   This is where concerns about a sporadic work history arise.  Assuming a gap of at least 20 quarters, or at least 5 calendar years of not working and paying into the system (that is, a period during which one has no longer been earning any quarters of coverage), then an individual  will no longer be insured should they become disabled.  For example, assuming you work regularly from age 21 to age 30 years of age, and then decide to stay home with a child for 5 full calendar years (and returning to work in the 6th calendar year).  In this example, should you become long-term disabled in year 6 or later,  (that is, before you have a chance to return to work), you would no longer be insured for benefits and you would receive a denial letter that indicates you are being found ineligible for SSDI benefits as you did not become disabled prior to your DLI.

It is important to understand that given small amount of money one needs to earn in order to earn credits or a QOC, it is possible to remain insured or to become insured once again even if one is not earning what is defined as substantial gainful activity (SGA).  While it is necessary to show SSA that you remain disabled from earning SGA level earnings for what will be or has been a year or longer (and, in 2017, SGA is defined as the ability to earn $1170.00 per month), in fact one can earn far less than SGA earnings (less than 1/2 of that) and still earn a full 4 QOC in a given year.    Also, given this, it is quite possible for one to have multiples dates last insured and  it may very well be advisable to consult with an experienced Social Security attorney in order to determine whether you remain insured for benefeits.

Contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith for a no cost consultation to see if you might qualify for SSDI benefits in light of your earnings history at 1-800-773-8622.